Riigikogu rejects EKRE direct presidential elections initiative

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EKRE MP Kalle Grünthal Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Riigikogu on Tuesday rejected a bill by Conservative People's Party (EKRE) MP Kalle Grünthal for a referendum on whether Estonia should have direct presidential elections.

The Constitutional Committee in charge of processing the bill proposed rejecting it during its first reading which the Riigikogu supported, with 62 MPs voting for and 19 against scrapping the bill.

The bill would have seen the April 18 referendum ask people in the form of a matter of national significance whether the people should elect the president in Estonia.

Constitutional Committee deputy chair Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said that the committee found such a draft resolution to be unconstitutional. Läänemets' position was supported by seven members of the committee and opposed by two.

"/…/ The Constitution makes it clear that if we want to put a constitutional matter up for referendum, it needs to be done in the form of draft legislation," Läänemets said. "The Estonian Constitution provides that a referendum the aim of which is to amend legislation, especially the Constitution itself, cannot be held in the form of a simple question. It would require draft legislation – whether a new section or proposed amendments to existing sections – to the brought in front of the Riigikogu. The parliament would then put the bill up for referendum and sections would automatically be amended should the people support it. The Constitution would also be automatically amended with no further action needed," Läänemets explained, adding that this is the only reason why the committee found it impossible to support the bill.

All EKRE MPs, with the exception of Riho Breivel who was not present, voted for taking the draft resolution to its second reading. The only non-EKRE member to vote for was Jürgen Ligi (Reform) who later said that a technical malfunction had caused his vote to jump over. Ligi said he wanted to vote against the draft resolution.

Center MP Jaanus Karilaid said, in terms of why his party voted against, that EKRE had two years to pursue this matter (in the coalition – ed.), while it was "more conversation than action" at the time. Isamaa was the only party they would have had to convince in the previous coalition, Karilaid remarked. "They were selling hot air today, pretended to be fighting for something," Karilaid said in terms of EKRE MPs' performance.

The "window of opportunity" is closed and will not return before 2023 parliamentary elections when the next coalition will be put together," Karilaid said, adding that direct presidential elections and the possibility of referendums remain important topics for Center.

Center Party MPs have repeatedly proposed switching to direct presidential elections in Estonia. Such proposals have been put forward in 2013, 2015, 2016 and recently in 2020.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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